Friday, October 13, 2006

Marxism in Our Time - Segment One

I transcribed part one of Dr. Francisco Nemenzo's Lecture "Marxism in our Time" presented by the University of the Philippines Podcast Channel. Hearing Dr. Nemenzo lecture on Marx and Marxism reminded me why I became a socialist in the first place.

Here is the transcript
Sabi nga ni Marx, that if you produce a new means of production, new technology, you will have to reorganize the way you work and the way we relate to each other, that's why we are now just learning how to teach using this new technology.

Next to Niccolo Machiavelli, Karl Marx is the most maligned figure in our Social Science II syllabus. But unlike the others who are now immortalized in classical works that only fascinate the specialists, Karl Marx was able to attract legions of followers whose activities has made a tremendous impact in our life. So anyone who does a serious study of the 20th century cannot ignore Marx and the movement he inspired.

Marx however had the misfortune of being known not for what he actually said, but for what others have said about him. Most detractors who malign him, as well as the disciples who adore him have never studied any of his works. So the popular image of Marx is a caricature either drawn by western mass media or by the communist propaganda. My aim in this lecture is to encourage you to read Marx in his own words, to read the original works of Marx. To study the Marxism of Marx and not the Marxism of his detractors and his disciples.

Now if you are really interested, this is a good starter - The Communist Manifesto. It is short, elegantly written and it is available in the National Bookstore, sometimes you can even buy them for 100 pesos. But if you are adventurous, you are really serious, you can try Das Kapital. This is only the first volume, there are 3 more because Das Kapital comes in 4 volumes. That is for those who are really serious.

What I'm going to do this morning, is to highlight his most controversial ideas and to debate with his contemporary critics. The contemporary critics dismiss Marxism outright as a jurassic ideology out of touch with current reality. The basis for this claim is the fact that the communist regimes in Russia, and Eastern Europe has collapsed whilke China and Vietnam have adopted capitalist ways. But those who have actually studied the works of Marx and shared his commitment to the socialist vision find no reason to discard him. They are convinced that his critique of capitalism is even more relevant now than at the height of the cold war. Marxism I think will survive for as long as there is any form of exploitation. As for me, it was not the presence of a formidable Soviet state that attracted me to Marxism but the rigor of his analysis and the eloquence of his advocacy for revolutionary change.

Contrary to what the critics say, Marx did not offer a blueprint for heaven on earth. The Soviet and Maoist systems, were not patterned after a preconceived model of a perfect society. therefore the failure of the systems in Russia and China does not disprove Marx. If it was not to propose a program for creating an ideal society, what was Marx trying to do in his numerous books and articles, which are by the way compiled in 45 different volumes. Well the answer is that he was just trying to analyze capitalism. So if you want to know about socialism or communism, do not bother with Das Kapital. But if you want to know how capitalism works, you have much to learn from Das Kapital. Nowhere in this 4 volume opus magnum will you find a prescription of how a communist society is to be organized and governed.

Marx analyzed capitalism using a methodology that he called Dialectical Materialism. This methodology starts from the axiom that everything changes except change itself. Applied to human society, it assumes that society is in a state of constant flux and the job of social science is to uncover the laws underlying the process of change. But what for? Just as the conventional economists and the professors of business administration study capitalist society for the purpose of managing it more efficiently Marx analyzed capitalism for the purpose of facilitating it's overthrow. as he put it in his 11th theses of Feurbach "Philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways, The point however is to change it."

Another axiom of Dialectical Materialism is that the forces of social change are inherent in the society itself. Society consists of antagonistic classes whose interests contradict each other. The struggle between them lies at the root of every historical event that brings about major changes in society. In the life cycle of a given social system like capitalism, piecemeal or evolutionary changes are introduced in response to concrete problems but there comes a point where the system can no longer accommodate further changes without destroying itself. At this point, evolution gives way to revolution. The class struggle according to Marx, is an objective fact, that is, it occurs even if the contending classes are unaware that their interests are irreconcilable. In fact a society to maintain itself, to preserve the status quo, fabricates a myth or what Marx calls an ideology, to make the existing class structure look like the natural order of things. The dominant ideology assuages the conscience of the elite that their priveledges are rightfully theirs. The dominant ideology, also makes the oppressed believe that their duty is to obey their natural superiors.

A revolution only becomes possible, if and when the dominant ideology breaks down and the subordinate classes gain consciousness of their own interests and organize themselves to overthrow existing systems and stand for a new social order. A revolution as Marx used the term is a fundamental change in society. That dramatic moment when the militant section of the subordinate class seizes political power is only the starting point, more crucial is how it rebuilds a new social system upon the ruins of the old.

Marx would not have considered EDSA 1 and EDSA 2 a revolution because both merely replaced the occupant in MalacaƱang. After 2 EDSA's, the Philippine state still pursues essentially the same foreign policies and the same development strategy because it continues to serve the same ruling class.

Marx did not consider the outbreak of violence as the essence of revolution. As a general rule however, the ruling class will not relinquish their wealth and power without a fight thus compelling the subordinate class to fight back. But Marx gave an allowance that in countries with well established democratic institutions, where the leading politicians respect the rules of the game, the revolution may occur peacefully. A social scientist who is not a captive of the dominant ideology, should analyze the existing social system in order to identify the class which radical change could bring, The class in the social system that has no vested interest in its preservation and for that purpose, Marx dedicated/devoted his whole life, suffering extreme deprivation, in order to analyze capitalism.


Anonymous said...

Thank you for such a wonderful essay, I have been very fond of the preoccupation found in Marxist Humanism, but I have just posted some terrible news about the bigotry of Karl Marx… Please stop by and offer your thoughts if you like

roy choco said...

Hi Samrocha,

Here in the Philippines we are not normally plagued with anti-semitism (there are very few, if any Jews here) so I am not familiar with this side of Marx.

My first reaction to your post however is "so what", Marx was anti-semitic. It does not in any way make his philosophy less relevant just as Kant's anti-semitism makes his works less relevant.

Even if Marx was an anti-semite, Marxism itself should not be, and the fact that there are and were many Jewish Marxists proves that Marxism (relative to Nazism for example)is not inherently anti-semitic.

I have done some initial googling on the issue however and my opinion remains the same excepting that Marx may not be as anti-semitic as your quotes seem to make him.

I will try to write a more detailed and in-depth post on this.

Thank you for your comment.

Here are some articles that might be of interest to you regarding this matter.

Lucky White Girl: Journey into Marxism, Day 2
From Moses to Marx
On the Jewish Question - Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Hank Roth: Karl Marx, the Un-Jewish Jew
An exchange of letters on Marx and anti-Semitism
Hal Draper: Marx and the Economic-Jew Stereotype (1977)